Also indexed as: Fungal Infection (Foot), Tinea Pedis
Athlete’s foot? The toes will tell you. A persistent,
burning itch between the toes can send you running for relief. According to research or other
evidence, the following self-care steps may be helpful:
- Keep it dry
- To discourage fungal growth, dry feet thoroughly after showering
or bathing, use foot powders, and change socks frequently
- Let your feet see the light
- Wear sandals or other open footwear to expose skin to
sunlight’s antifungal effects
- Try tea tree oil
- Apply a 10% herbal concentration in a cream base as a natural
alternative to antifungal medications
These recommendations are not comprehensive and are not intended to replace
the advice of your doctor or pharmacist. Continue reading the full athlete’s foot
article for more in-depth, fully-referenced information on medicines, vitamins, herbs, and
dietary and lifestyle changes that may be helpful.
About athlete’s foot
Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection of the foot that can be caused by a number of
different skin fungi.
Generally, athlete’s foot does not cause serious problems; however, the disruption of
the skin barrier can be a source of significant infections in people with impaired blood flow
to the feet (such as people with diabetes) or
in those with impaired immune systems.
Infections of the nails are more difficult to treat than those affecting only the skin.
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What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of athlete’s foot include a persistent, burning itch that often starts
between the toes. The skin on the feet may be damp, soft, red, cracked, or peeling; the feet
may also show patches of dead skin. The feet often have a strong or unusual smell, and
sometimes small blisters occur on the feet.
Over the counter agents used to treat athlete’s foot are available as creams,
powders, and sprays. Available drugs include
clotrimazole (Lotrimin®), miconazole
(Micatin®), terbinafine (Lamisil®),
undecylenic acid (Desenex®) and tolnaftate (Tinactin®, Aftate®).
Topical prescription drugs used to treat athlete’s foot include econazole (Spectazole®), ketoconazole (Nizoral®), andciclopirox
Drying powders can be used inside the socks and shoes to help keep the feet dry during the
Lifestyle changes that may be helpful
Keeping the feet dry is very important for preventing and fighting athlete’s foot.
After showering or bathing, thorough drying or careful use of a hair dryer is recommended.
Light is also an enemy of fungi. People with athlete’s foot should change socks daily to
decrease contact with the fungus and should wear sandals occasionally to get sunlight
Herbs that may be helpful
Tea tree oil has been traditionally used to
treat athlete’s foot. One trial reported that application of a 10% tea tree oil cream
reduced symptoms of athlete’s foot just as effectively as drugs and better than placebo,
although it did not eliminate the fungus.1
The compound known as ajoene, found in
garlic, is an antifungal agent. In a group of 34 people using a 0.4% ajoene cream applied
once per day, 79% of them saw complete clearing of athlete’s foot after one week; the
rest saw complete clearing within two weeks.2 All participants remained cured three
months later. One trial found a 1% ajoene cream to be more effective than the standard topical
drug terbinafine for treating athlete’s
foot.3 Ajoene cream is not yet available commercially, but topical application of
crushed, raw garlic may be a potential alternative application.
Are there any side effects or interactions?
Refer to the individual herb for information about any side effects or interactions.
1. Tong MM, Altman PM, Barnetson RS. Tea tree oil in the treatment of
tinea pedis. Aust J Dermatol 1992;33:145–9.
2. Ledezma E, DeSousa L, Jorquera A, et al. Efficacy of ajoene, an
organosulphur derived from garlic, in the short-term therapy of tinea pedis. Mycoses
3. Ledezma E, Marcano K, Jorquera A, et al. Efficacy of ajoene in the
treatment of tinea pedis: A double-blind and comparative study with terbinafine. J Am Acad